Friday, August 01, 2014

New Atheists vs. Social Justice Warriors

In the middle of my JULIA & BUDDY production I took the time to address the issue of Richard Dawkins vs. Adam Lee on July 6. It isn't only them though, but what they represent - New Atheists vs. Social Justice Warriors.

In case you aren't familiar with the terminologies - "New Atheists" are generally considered to be lead by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, and until he shuffled off this mortal coil, Christopher Hitchens.

Since Hitchens is gone other atheists are up for being considered as the fourth of the Four Horsemen of atheism - see the Wiki I linked to above. Steven Pinker is one of the most prominent runners-up, and I think the most appropriate - like the others he is devoted to explaining human behavior through evolutionary psychology, a research theory that posits among other things that women have evolved to be more monogamous than men, and less capable, innately, at math and science ways of thinking than men, which is why, as Larry Summers famously argued, women don't have as successful careers in STEM.

And Hitchen's own personal contribution to this mighty theory is that women have evolved to be unfunny. Outside of the New Atheist bubble, Hitchens is known as the guy who said women aren't funny. Serves the asshole right.

The New Atheists also tend towards xenophobia, especially against Muslims, most likely in a terrified response to the 9-11 attacks. Sam Harris is especially awful in this respect, justifying torture and promoting ethnic profiling in security checks.

I've discussed my objections to the New Atheist celebrity leaders throughout this blog, right from the very beginning if you count Pinker, who has flirted with the edges of more hard-core sociobiology - the racial aspect - through his publicly proclaimed intellectual affiliation with right-wing operative Razib Khan.

While Pinker has no trouble citing Khan to back up his own work, he has stated that Stephen Jay Gould's critical views on evolutionary psychology should be discounted due to Gould's leftist political leanings. Although as far as I know Gould was never an actual political operative like Razib Khan.

Pinker's absolute, shameless, blatant hypocrisy on this issue should be more widely-known and should certainly give anybody pause when deciding whether to worship Pinker as a Great Man of Atheism, along with those other seriously flawed celebrity atheists.

On the other side are the Social Justice Warriors, who are just as obnoxious as the New Atheists, but in different, and sometimes opposite ways. I haven't been criticizing Social Justice Warriors for as long as New Atheists, but I have certainly been doing so a lot lately. Surprisingly there is no entry in Wikipedia for Social Justice Warrior - I will probably remedy that soon - perhaps because the term is less well-known, although Richard Dawkins has been using the term lately. But science fiction writer Will Shetterly, while not the coiner of the term, has been most prominent in using the term, even writing a book about SJWs.

SJWs have well-known proponents, although they don't have the celebrity status of the leading New Atheists. But SJWs tend to think and act in mobs anyway, through the power of social media aggregation, and so are less likely to stand alone as an individual celebrity.

One of the most prominent SJWs is Mikki Kendall, whom readers of this blog know I have a personal beef with: several years ago she used her Tumblr account to proclaim me, by name, as a "racist." This was because some friend of hers I argued with on Facebook decided I was a racist because I defended John Lennon and Yoko Ono's use of the N word in a song written 40 years ago. They used the N word to make a serious political point about sexism, not to attack African Americans. But you can't reason with a SJW mob. They know what they know and anybody who argues with them is automatically a racist.

The power of Google-bombing a person's name is still under-discussed in the media, considering how much power it has to harm people, and legally. Google suggests that if you don't like what somebody is saying about you, which is showing up in Google results, ask them to take it down. But if you ask a SJW to take it down, that only confirms your guilt in their mind, and they will simply post even more links, to make their defamation against you go even higher in Google results.

Kendall was joined in her Tumblr smear of me by K. Tempest Bradford, also via Tumblr. Bradford is a science fiction writer, and included by Shetterly in his blog on SJWs. I had a Facebook exchange with Bradford during which I asked her to stop smearing me, and I found it fascinating that Bradford basically excused the smears on the grounds that I was rude to friends of hers when I argued with them. In other words, smearing me as a racist was justifiable payback for my bad manners. I will have more to say about Bradford's response, and the attitudes of SJWs generally as soon as I get a chance.

In any case, I concluded on July 6 that both sides are idiots.

However, I must acknowledge that Richard Dawkins has scored one for the New Atheists by this statement, made with Ophelia Benson:
It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things. 
Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.
In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.
Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

I was one of those who pointed out that Dawkins had a responsibility to denounce the shitstorm of rape and death threats that his ill-considered personal attack on Rebecca Watson inspired, and so even if this statement is three years late, it's something.

To give you a sense of how it should be done, recall that idiot Twitterer Suey Park called for the Colbert Report to be cancelled because of her own obtuseness (deliberate or not) over Colbert's parody of the Redskins football team name. I'm still not entirely convinced that Park is not a sock puppet of some right-wing think tank - her friendship with Michelle pro-Japanese-internment Malkin alone is extremely suspicious. But she could be real, and just a garden-variety dumbass Social Justice Warrior.

When his show returned after the weekend, Colbert defended himself, in character, but while he was doing it he said:
"Now all of this was started by a hash tag activist, or hashtivist, who has been viciously attacked on Twitter, and if anyone is doing that for me I want you to stop it right now. She's just speaking her mind and that's what Twitter is for..."
And that's how it's done. But Colbert is an entertainer and while his show and the Daily Show has a clear demographic, they can't speak only as the leaders of a self-selected group of people.

And that's what makes them different from both New Atheists and Social Justice Warriors, who tend to live in their respective bubbles. So New Atheists will make the most outrageous claims about the religious and religion in general without providing evidence, and as if all New Atheists live in a world in which they don't have to co-exist with religious people - including close friends and relatives.

Social Justice Warriors are perhaps more insidious - under the guise of social justice they will attack anybody, even allies, or perhaps especially allies, who ventures even slightly out of the political correctness compound, or who even leave themselves open to the slightest misinterpretation, as in the Colbert controversy. They are so in love with their self-image as defenders of justice that they will try to invent cases of injustice so they can get their superhero tights on and fight it.

Of course the New Atheists have their own dreams of glory - they like to imagine themselves standing tall against the forces of ignorance and superstition and, in their most misguided logical leap, terrorism which they equate with Islam. And so they support stupidities like the outcry against the "9-11 mosque." I went to the counter-demonstration.

Now it appears that Richard Dawkins was not getting off on the power of having his slavish New Atheist followers attack feminist atheists - especially but by no means only Rebecca Watson - at least if Dawkins was to be believed. He apparently was oblivious the the phenomenon, or at least didn't seem to understand he might have the power to reduce the viciousness through speaking up against it. Well now he has, so let's see if it works.

So that gives New Atheists a boost over Social Justice Warriors at this point - I consider Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism to be a SJW because he censored me when I suggested that certain of Ayn Rand's literary output might have been due to Ayn Rand possibly having an autism spectrum condition. He told me to STFU and allowed his good buddy Azkyroth to attack me as someone out to hurt people with Asperger's.

And mind you, I had been contributing to the discussion of Atlas Shrugged on Lee's blog for months, and had shown no indication of wanting to harm anybody with Asperger's. But that does not matter - when a SJW has their hero tights on, you cannot reason with them any more.

It's issues having to do with brain functionality that is one of the big problems with Social Justice Warriors. Just as it is unacceptable to use gender and race and other physical features to suggest a difference in emotional/intellectual expression, they believe it is also unacceptable to even discuss the possibility that conditions like Asperger's, or even mental illness might have an influence on the way a person expresses themselves.

You can see it in Greta Christina's response to somebody suggesting that the disgusting "Amazing Atheist" might have a mental illness:
Brian Walsh @ #13: Please don’t do that. The idea that hateful and vile people must be mentally ill gets trotted out a lot (it did with the Elliot Rodger shooting), and it’s very problematic. It diminishes responsibility for hateful and vile behavior. It marginalizes people who are mentally ill, perpetuating the idea that we’re dangerous and/or evil. And it disproportionately gets used to protect white people. (As has been pointed out many times by many people: When a white person shoots a bunch of people, they’re mentally ill. When a black person does it, they’re a thug. When a brown person does it, they’re a terrorist.) Please don’t do it. Thanks.
Please note that she doesn't present an argument for why the Amazing Atheist is not mentally ill - she proclaims that it is unacceptable to suggest that anybody who is hateful and vile has a mental illness.

Just as it is unacceptable to Lee and company for anyone to speculate that Ayn Rand might have had Asperger's. Because friends of Adam Lee and Greta Christina (or apparently Christina herself) have Asperger's and mental illness. And so you must not ever say that anybody who is bad might have the same condition. 

This is censorship, plain and simple. They think they are promoting social justice, but what they are doing instead is making areas of discussion taboo. And demonizing anybody who wants to explore that area of discussion.

Social Justice Warriors are wrong in this. Wrong and stupid. And they need to admit that their censorship and shaming attempts are wrong. And chances are they never will - they believe in their own absolute correctness and moral superiority and you dare not attempt to argue with them or they will have no qualms about smearing you and attributing all kinds of evil against you. And then they will censor you, so you cannot argue back. 

That's what Dawkins and company mean by "witch hunts" and they do have a point. So New Atheist are slightly up on Social Justice Warriors in my book.

Until the next horrific thing they do/say/support. Tune in for future reports.


  1. Anonymous6:51 PM

    Check JacklynGleen She is one of the best Jr New atheists, the amazing atheist is just a dick, kind of like the guy whoyou agree on stuff but still think he is a dick

  2. Anonymous1:33 AM

    If you read your sentiments about these groups, notice how similar the way you express yourself is to what you are condemning. You accuse new atheists of not providing evidence for their claims... Harris regularly backs his claims with statistics, and accurately presents them and what they suggest. You say Harris promotes ethnic profiling, without providing a quotation (he never promoted ethnic profiling). When SJWs get on their high horse, they will throw all kinds of slurs at people who disagree with them. You throw the term 'xenophobia' at the 'New Atheists', and back it up with dubious claims (e.g., those about Harris). Also, criticising people for their affiliations as a means to undermine their arguments is not a great way to be persuasive (smells of an ad hominem fallacy). What is the ideological link between Pinker and the Right? Does he argue for sociobiological accounts of behaviour because he thinks they are sound, or because he is prejudiced? Or both? Do his arguments make sense? Does he make too many unsubstantiated 'assumptions' when reaching his conclusions favouring sociobiological accounts of behaviour? Not exploring such things means your argument against him is empty. Once you answer such questions as those above, then his affiliations may become more relevant, but his arguments themselves need to be assessed first, and on their merits. Also, being affiliated with someone on the Right is not the same as having 'Right leanings', so you seem to have erred there (unless I missed something).

  3. Anonymous1:34 AM

    Apart from those ostensible inconsistencies, your deeper points are correct. Public shaming of people you disagree with, and wilful obliviousness to public shaming behaviours by colleagues or fans, are deplorable things (Mark Ronson wrote a handy book about this recent phenomenon of social media public shaming). Boycotting people because of disagreements, and allowing their personal lives to be smashed is cruel, childish behaviour, and it seems too many people are all for it. As you say, SJWs love this kind of behaviour. That being said, the 'New Atheists' do not appear to love public shaming nearly as much, unless they are SJWs themselves (e.g., PZ Meyers). And your point about Bradford is important; SJWs, when they feel wronged, will throw labels at people - even if inaccurate - because they believe it is for the greater good. The end justifies the means... Right? Not a chance!

  4. Anonymous1:40 AM

    You nail the point about mental illness. The fact is, it is worth exploring how our biology affects our behaviours and capacities. If Asperger's Syndrome affects expression, it is important to explore how, so that when we see it, we know better than to overreact. It is not inherently wrong to believe someone's behaviour may stem from a mental illness, so long as this Is not just a knee-jerk reaction to being confronted by a difference in opinion. However, this brings me back to Steven Pinker. There are many things about us that make us behave differently to one another. If certain differences across races (or sexes, etc.) make us see things differently, or express ourselves differently, it is important to take note of this so as to reduce cross-cultural misunderstanding. If a study found that women are better than men at trigonometry, and that this stems from an innate difference, then we could start exploring how to rectify this deficit in men, so that they would stop falling behind. Ignoring the difference would surely not be the best approach. I am making this example up, but it demonstrates the point that noting differences is not the same as being prejudiced or enshrining 'biological superiorities'. Some people just want to know if / how we differ. And if we do differ, some people want to know if these differences lead to inequities, so that those inequities can be rectified. This is not a bad thing. Being open-minded means being open to conclusions we may not wish to entertain, so long as the data support them. SJWs see things differently; starting with PC conclusions, and then doing whatever mental gymnastics and / or misrepresentation necessary to justify their preconceived conclusions.

    1. he problem with Pinker and other advocates for race and gender essentialism (ie evolutionary psychology) is that every difference found is automatically assumed to be innate. And anybody who points out that, in fact, they have no evidence to support the innateness claim is proclaimed by the evo psychos to be anti-science and operating from politics. They attacked Gould on that basis all the time. Meanwhile when Pinker's "Better Angels" book is poorly reviewed by the New Yorker, Pinker's defense to link to a blog by a right wing political operative, Razib Khan. And Pinker is either too unself-aware or too shameless about his own blatant hypocrisy to acknowledge it.

    2. And your analogy of Aspergers to innate differences is wrong anyway. The argument against evo psycho is that there is no convincing evidence that a majority of members of one gender or "race" innately come by the alleged traits. The argument of those who tried to censor me was never that there was no evidence for Asperger traits. Their argument was that to suggest such traits might inform Ayn Rand's writing was unacceptable because (in their opinion) Ayn Rand was evil.

    3. Anonymous3:34 AM

      This seems like a very confused comment, which hides behind ambiguous terminology. What traits are you referring to? There certainly are innate differences between men and women which appear to impact on behaviour in differing ways. The behavioural effects of testosterone are a clear example. Male and female brains also differ in various ways (e.g., grey matter distribution). Moreover, you paint a grim picture of evolutionary psychology without noting the weaknesses of social constructionist arguments from the opposite side, which often make little sense. There is a lot of solid research in evolutionary psychology, but no work is infallible. Some people get trigger happy with calling differences innate, but the majority of evolutionary psychologists I know do not. They simply remain open to the possibility, which is a good thing. I do not believe Pinker is 'too' trigger-happy with such things, but am open to any criticisms of his particular arguments. That said, you are right to criticise anybody who will not listen to voices that dissent from various perspectives within evolutionary psychology. Honest debate is the answer.

      As for the remark about Asperger's, I must have read what you were saying out of context.

    4. Well there's no point in bothering in trying to communicate with you since I write:

      "The problem with Pinker and other advocates for race and gender essentialism (ie evolutionary psychology) is that every difference found is automatically assumed to be innate."

      And your response is:

      " There certainly are innate differences between men and women which appear to impact on behaviour in differing ways."

      Apparently my saying that they automatically assume innateness on every difference is interpreted by you to mean I am saying there are no innate differences. If you can't pick up on the distinction there - or like many supporters of evo-psycho you simply want to automatically paint critics of evo-psycho as claiming NOTHING is innate - which is exactly what Steven Pinker does in THE BLANK SLATE - one of the reasons why bona find intellectuals find him so tiresome.

      I don't have the patience to deal with someone who either can't or won't get that "automatically assume innateness" does not mean denying all innateness.

  5. "ostensible inconsistencies"?

    1. Anonymous3:35 AM

      To me, an ostensible inconsistency would be something which may appear to be inconsistent, but might not necessarily / actually be.

  6. If you'd bother to search on my blog alone you will find plenty to support the statements in this one blog post. Not only did Sam Harris promote ethnic profiling, he's freaking infamous for it. You must be incredibly ill-acquainted with his career if you are not aware of that. Bruce Schneier delivered a magnificent, data-based takedown of Harris's ethnic profiling recommendations here:

    1. Anonymous4:16 AM

      Perhaps this depends on how one chooses to define ethnicity. If you are tying ethnicity to race (many people think these terms are synonymous), then you would be incorrect, as Harris has never advocated for racial profiling of any description to my knowledge. If you are conceptualising ethnicity as being devotion to or membership within some wider tradition (e.g., religious / cultural) or something to that effect, then sure. He certainly thinks people who 'may be' Muslim should be profiled. However, Harris's own logic means that he would be exactly the kind of person security would pull aside. I don't feel moved by his views at all (I think what he proposes would achieve nothing), but I am also not eager to misrepresent them. I have already read criticisms of Harris by Schneier, so I doubt much will be gained by reading that post, but in case I missed something, I'll get off my butt and read it, in case I've overlooked something (or many somethings).

  7. I've been following the career of Steven Pinker since before I started this blog 10 years ago. His promotion of essentialist attitudes toward ladybrains, and Elizabeth Spelke's debunking of same; the New Yorker's consistent take-downs of Pinker's poor scholarship; and Pinker's ties to infamous bio-racialist Razib Khan are all mentioned on my blog.

    1. Anonymous3:56 AM

      Elizabeth Spelke has not refuted the notion of 'ladybrains', unless you are defining this term in the more extreme sense. If you mean she has refuted the idea that men and women differ at the level of the brain, that is untrue. Our brains are unique. If you mean she has refuted a lot of popular myths about certain supposedly innate attributes regarding women, then you are certainly correct; she has. Men and women certainly are not nearly as different as many have been led to believe (e.g., by religious doctrines and pseudoscience).

      The last section seems like a red herring though. Pinker should be dismissed via debunking of his individual arguments, not by pointing out who his friends / associates are. Much of what Pinker says is perfectly reasonable in my view, but you have probably read his works more widely, and may be aware of many weaker arguments he has made. I'll have a look over your blog when time arises to get a deeper feel for your opinion regarding his individual arguments. I'm always happy to be schooled.

  8. Well why don't you list the innate behavioral differences between men and women and prove they are innate? That's my point about evo psychos - they feel all they have to do is observe differences in male/female behavior and then declare victory. And the only thing they have going for them is just-so stories about the sexual predilections of prehistoric people. No testable evidence.

  9. And as far as the Asperger's thing - do you understand how analogies work?